In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
Earlier in the week I wrote one of these devotionals on honoring your parents. It is only fitting that I would now write the devotional on loving your wife. I have been married for three years, so my experience is limited compared to some. However, there is one thing that is needed to put this verse into practice that it seems everyone has equal qualifications: loving yourself.
Now this verse seems to muddy the waters that we have tried to make clear when it comes to a good marriage. That is that marriage is all about forgetting and denying yourself to care for and nourish your spouse. This is what we are supposed to do to follow Christ, so we translate this into loving our wives as well. However, this verse seems to counter that idea with another: you must love yourself in order to love your wife. When we think about it, this makes sense. If we don’t care about ourselves, how can we take care of another person?
The separation we must make is between loving ourselves and being in love with ourselves. If we can’t make this distinction, we begin to think that we are the priority in the relationship. “Well I’m not going to be loving to her when she clearly cannot be respectful to me.” When we are in love with ourselves, we make our love conditional by thinking that our needs must be met by them if we are going to meet theirs. However, if we simply love ourselves, we don’t rely on the other person to take care of us. Instead, we tend to our own needs and let God take care of us. Then, when we love ourselves like that, we can treat our spouse the same way, by caring for her needs because we love her like we love ourselves. And when we do, Ephesians says, we will love ourselves in turn (vs 28). Not only do we love ourselves so that we can love our wives, but when we love our wives we end up loving ourselves for it.
I don’t have all the answers – Paul himself says, “This is a profound mystery” – but I believe we can start with learning to love ourselves. If we can’t do that, we are going to have a tough time caring for someone else.